He’s not going to win the Heisman. Let’s get that out in the open right from the get-go.
Playing for an unranked, underachieving team that has gone south faster than “snow birds” trek to Florida the first sign of sub-50 temps in their native Northeast abode, Marqise Lee has that inoperable obstacle in his path to college football’s highest individual honor as is.
In a true testament to irony, the Southern California receiver/return man has become the marquee attraction to one of the nation’s most recognized programs and that connection only serves to hurt – heck, kill – his chances.
The video-game numbers Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel puts up every week in proving the Aggies-will-bomb doomsayers wrong during an initial foray into SEC play hasn’t helped, either. Nor has skill and leadership displayed by Braxton Miller and Manti Te’o in spearheading unbeaten seasons at Ohio State and Notre Dame, either.
But, push comes to shove, do you really want to argue who the best player in the sport happens to be?
Biases, allegiances and affiliations aside, anyone would be hard pressed to trump a case for Lee holding that title.
Full disclosure – the vote would be for Johnny Football here. What he’s done and how he’s done it and who he’s done it against … well, the idea that the Heisman wouldn’t go to him, even with that bucking the unspoken no-freshman rule, just seems silly. In guiding the Aggies to the unthinkable – a victory at supposedly unbeatable, unbreakable Alabama two weeks ago – and them hold their own week in and week out against the country’s toughest competition, the dye should have been cast on this one.
But is he better than Lee, and has he even had a better “individual” season than the USC sophomore? The numbers actually say no.
To wit: Manziel doesn’t rank among the nation’s top-10 QBs in any key category. He’s 22nd in passer rating and 18th in yards. As a testament to his all-around athletic brilliance, he is 26th in the country in rushing, though.
In short, he ain’t exactly chopped liver no matter how you slice it. Thing is, his value, obviously, is measured beyond sheer individual statistics.
With Lee, playing at a position that doesn’t have nearly the same kind of every-snap influence, numbers matter … and his are as good as they get. Not only does he lead the country in receptions (107), but he tops it in receiving yards (1,605), too. For good measure, he ranks 10th among the nation’s kick returners, averaging 29.3 yards per attempt. He also has 15 TDs total – 14 receiving, and one on a 100-yard KOR blitz by Hawaii in the first game.
Oh, here’s the “oh, yeah” best part: Lee wasn’t even the Trojans’ projected top weapon this fall. Returning star wideout and former high school teammate Robert Woods – he of the Biletnikoff Award nomination and All-America consideration prior to kickoff in Week 1 – was. Woods has had a nice junior season, checking in with 721 yards and 10 TDs receiving.
It’s just that everyone at USC, including ballyhooed QB Matt Barkley, has seemed to take a step back this season while Lee continues to emerge as something more than a your typical college football star. He is truly special.
One week he’s setting Pac-12 records for catches (16) and yards (345) and the next he’s posting a new conference mark for kickoff return yards (251). Of course, that Trojans’ attachment did little to help his Heisman case in those games since they came in losing efforts at Arizona and against then-No. 2 Oregon.
Twenty-five years ago, Tim Brown became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman, playing for a pretty mediocre Notre Dame squad. That, however, was before the BCS and the digital age and when Brent Musberger claiming a player deserved the Heisman off one brilliant performance carried some serious weight with voters.
But this is a different age, with so many outlets and options that best player in the game may not stand out so much, that he may get lost in the shuffle come Heisman time.
Indeed, there will be no more Paul Hornung-type selections anymore – which isn’t all bad, knowing that the lead character in a season-long production of drek won’t be honored just because of brand recognition.
Lee, though, is far more than that. He is, without question, worthy of Heisman consideration in 2012.
He just won’t get the trophy.